I am 24 years old and I still watch Degrassi with my best friend from middle school. My iPhone autocorrects “Degrassi” to “degrading.” Coincidence?
For those who didn’t grow up with it, Degrassi: The Next Generation was basically a Canadian teen soap-opera meets after-school special. I’m one of many in my generation that has fond memories of tuning in to watch Paige Michalchuk, Spinner, Emma, Wheelchair Jimmy, and the whole gang. Something most twenty-somethings don’t know? It’s still on.
But when did everyone stop watching Degrassi? I, for one, didn’t get the memo. I would guess that for most people, it was when they fled their parents’ 1,200-channel-cable-nest to take flight for college. Few dorm rooms come equipped with The N or Noggin or TeenNick or whatever hell network played Degrassi. However, my alma mater did carry that frequently rebranded channel and my Canadian teen drama never left. As a result, I am incapable of separating Jimmy from international recording artist Drake.
Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered in 2002 in the U.S. It was, and still is, one of the few shows where teens play actual teens. Little twelve-year-old Liz was instantly sucked into the never-ceasing drama. Think of any teen issue — literally anything — and Degrassi had an episode about it. Break-ups, make-ups, underage drinking, coming out, drugs, divorce, cutting, receiving plastic bracelets for blowjobs in the back of van, internet pedophiles, penis pumps, and getting stabbed at prom — Degrassi goes there.
Thank goodness I have my perpetual best friend Amanda to watch this with me. Half the fun is having her next to me saying things like, “Ashley’s been so annoying ever since she did ecstasy at that party and cheated on Jimmy and became a goth. And that haircut is tragic.” Once, we got a noise complaint in her Upper East Side apartment for screaming too loudly when a character made her boyfriend take an “Are You Ready for Sex?” quiz out of a teen magazine. (Spoiler alert: they weren’t ready for sex and that boyfriend later became her step-brother when their parents got married three episodes later. God, I love this show.)
For those that watched Degrassi back in the day, you’ll remember Sean Cameron. Sean was a bad boy that moved to Toronto to stay out of trouble after deafening a kid in one ear with a sucker punch. He had an on-off thing with resident hippie chick Emma Nelson and later, resident Avril Lavigne chick, Ellie.
Amanda wanted to move away from the Upper East Side, so I accompanied her on a tour of an apartment directly behind mine in Brooklyn. The place was great, but I was hungover and grumpy, and whined that we should leave. I opened the door to leave and Sean Cameron was standing there. He looked at me, politely said, “hey,” and continued down the stairs to go walk his dog. I think I blacked out for a second. My mouth may have dropped open, but I can’t be sure. I started clawing at Amanda’s arm as she wisely and calmly shut the door. Amanda heard him say “calm down” at the bottom of the stairs, but hours later, we determined he was talking to his dog and not me.
“OH MY GOD! Amanda! That was Sean from Degrassi. Oh my god oh my god.” I dramatically threw myself on the ground and started texting everyone I ever watched Degrassi with (so maybe six girls). I think a large part of my reaction was due to my hangover and how incredibly unexpected it was to open a door and see a Degrassi character standing on the other side of it.
Amanda did not get that apartment.
Degrassi is largely unchanged. The cast is entirely different and now there are more plots centered around who-said-what on “FaceRange,” but the classic morality-dripping teen angst is still going strong. I think it holds a special place for me and Amanda because Degrassi has been around as long as our friendship. When we’re lying in her bed flabbergasted that goth-boy Eli drove his hearse into a wall over his breakup with bookworm Claire, it’s like we’re still those weird twelve-year-olds in my parent’s basement.
I feel largely unchanged from the roly-poly tween I used to be, but I’m 24 now. I’ve been through a lot of “firsts” since I started watching Degrassi. However, my relationship with this Canadian teen drama is the same. It’s a show I watch with a distance. I’ve never “related” to Degrassi because it’s always so over the top. A real life has layers and layers of complicated relationships. It’s never as one-dimensional as, “I am sad because my boyfriend broke up with me so now I will become an alcoholic.” Degrassi drama is high-intensity, low-impact. That’s one part I love about it. During those 40 minutes, I will gasp at how awkward a situation is, laugh, and move on. Unlike real life where my scumbag brain likes to remind me of that time I said the exactly wrong thing and I get to relive that pain all over again.
It’s the melodrama of Degrassi that makes it so special. When I watch it, I’m not worrying about that project at work I have due or what I’m going to bring to my boss’s housewarming party. I’m focused on Spinner getting a boner in the middle of class and oh man, he just got called to the board! I get to watch characters’ painful adolescence as a wonderful distraction. As the years march on, the characters of Degrassi are always living and re-living the juicy drama that is being a teenager.
That’s what I love about Degrassi, man. I get older, they stay the same age.